A Passion For Fashion With A Marketing Flair™

Talbots Makeover – You’ve Come A Long Way Baby!

Talbots is not you’re grandmother’s store any more.  This savvy retailer is boldly moving their 63 year-old company ahead on the fashion 2.0 landscape with an updated, e-commerce website, engaging Facebook page and Twitter account.   In addition, Talbots Inc. is now a favorite on Wall Street, thanks to cost cuts and a complex financial arrangement for unloading its enormous debt.

Photo: Talbots

The Company
“The Talbots, Inc. is a multichannel retailer of women’s apparel, shoes and accessories known for modern classic style. Its signature Talbots brand serves a broad diversity of women within the fast-growing 35+ population through an extensive range of styles and sizes. It operates seamlessly across three sales channels – stores, catalog and Internet.”

The Brand
“Talbots is a leading specialty retailer and direct marketer of women’s classic clothing, shoes and accessories. Established in 1947, the company is known for legacy items like the perfect blazer, trustworthy trench, versatile white shirt, ballet flats and pearls, as well as its fine workmanship, gracious service and welcoming red doors. With a nod to tradition infused with modern flair, Talbots offers an array of timeless wardrobe options to flatter women of all shapes and sizes. The Company currently operates stores in 580 locations in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. Its online shopping site is located at www.talbots.com.”

Photo: Talbots

To solidify its comeback and boost sales, Talbots must complete a merchandise and image makeover that targets younger customers. Rejuvenating a brand that many women think of as perfect for their grandmothers is complicated.  Talbots must make its clothes more youthful without alienating its core customers during the transition as well as persuade a new segment of women in their 30s and 40s to consider shopping there.

Trudy Sullivan, Talbots chief executive, is attempting to refocus on women 35 and older.    She joined the company Fall 2007 and has introduced some younger items, including slim jackets and feminine dresses.  With Sullivan’s help, Talbots is aiming to make their fashions more hip with looks that include a sequin-trimmed sweater and leopard-print-lined black booties. So far, they have had some hits and some misses. For example, last spring, “ethnic” prints in bright colors including orange and lime green did not work for them.  But this fall, a “pant fit initiative” gives customers a $5 gift card for trying on a pair from the new pants styles. The retailer sold 590,000 pairs in nine weeks. In addition,  First Lady Michelle Obama has been spotted numerous times in Talbots clothing.

Dress by Talbots

Judging by the comments to a WSJ article this year in April about the  Talbots image makeover, some of the core customers are not happy with the changes.  Fortunately there were also those that embraced the change, “Classic can mean timeless, not just dowdy and that, I think, is what Talbots is trying to do.”   It’s a catch-22 situation.  “Talbots not only needs to get its core customer spending more, it also needs to get a new customer,” said Roxanne Meyer, executive director of specialty retail at UBS Investment Research.  Only time will tell.

Another effort to refresh their image is making Linda Evangelista the new face of Talbots.   The 44-year-old supermodel and mother was photographed by top photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for a glossy advertising campaign which will be launched in September.  According to Talbots chief marketing officer, Lori Wagner, “She possesses this timeless yet spontaneous glamour that’s irresistible in our minds.”

It is obvious that social media is an important tactic in Talbots marketing strategy to reposition the brand. There are 4 key steps to success in social media marketing: LISTEN, SEGMENT & TARGET, INTERACT and NOTIFY & SCORE that Talbot incorporated on the way to re-branding.  The following are examples of how they did it:

LISTEN
Talbot listened and aimed to attract younger customers.   According to Kate Goodman, director of e-commerce at Talbots, “Customers are encouraged to share their insights, advice, wisdom, and humor. This platform (“Pearls of Wisdom”) allows our customers to speak freely to us about who they are and what Talbots means to them … This allows us to create a broader, more relevant community by encouraging customers to share emotional experiences — within Talbots.com instead of some third-party site.”

Talbots website

SEGMENT & TARGET
Talbots refocused on women 35 and older, persuading a new segment of women in their 30’s and 40’s to consider shopping there and making their clothes more youthful without alienating their core customers during the transition.

INTERACT

The Talbot website has an engaging, interactive section, “Pearls of Wisdom,” that is powered by the Bazaarvoice social commerce platform.   According to the company, “Pearls of Wisdom: Your Voice” provides Talbots customers with a place to share their stories, opinions, and style.  They are encouraged to address topics close to their hearts, including summer reading lists, embarrassing moments with moms and their absolute worst Valentine’s Day gifts. Topics are promoted by email and Facebook.    Top stories and writers are highlighted on Talbots Facebook fan page.

Talbots Facebook fan page

On the Talbots Facebook page, there is also an interactive Look Book, link to an article in  WWD about Talbots, exclusive offers for fans and a link to find a store near you.

Talbots Look Book on Facebook fan page

NOTIFY & SCORE
The “pant fit initiative” gives customers a $5 gift card for trying on a pair from the new pants styles. The retailer sold 590,000 pairs in nine weeks.  Promoting “Pearl of Wisdom” topics by email, tweets promote what is going on at Talbots and an opportunity to sign-up for email notification about special offers are other ways that Talbots is using social media marketing.

Talbots on Twitter

Talbots was known as the label for suburban moms.  Now, with the repositioning, “Talbots blends equal parts tradition and imagination to surprise and delight with timeless apparel and innovative experiences that women crave.”  I love the new look and their fashion 2.0 achievements.  Creating “Pearls of Wisdom” and promoting it through email and on Facebook is definitely an innovative tactic.

However, Talbots still has work to do. For example, why not include the Facebook and Twitter icons on the website as well as add a YouTube channel featuring runway videos?  These minor adjustments will expand their reach even further among younger women and ultimately take Talbots to the next level of fashion and retail success.

Talbots.com website home page

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